Chew On This: Ouroboric Anthropology" and the Mothers of Cat Horns: An Analysis of the Diminished Authority of Anthropology in African Art Studies and Why it Should Be Celebrated

  • Tuesday, May 18, 2021
    2:00 PM – 4:00 PM

Title: "Ouroboric Anthropology" and the Mothers of Cat Horns: An Analysis of the Diminished Authority of Anthropology in African Art Studies and Why it Should Be Celebrated
Time: Tuesday, 5/18 at 2pm PST
Place: Zoom! https://ucla.zoom.us/j/97229869410

Description:
In the decades since the publication of Alfred Gell’s Art and Agency, art-focused anthropological theory has increasingly eschewed the restrictions of Western aesthetics in favor of more processual approaches informed by local understandings of art function and praxis. However, this dramatic turn towards idiosyncratic rather than universal interpretations of art has in many ways diminished anthropology’s authority in African art studies. Using examples from my own ethnographic research in Béninois medicine markets, I argue that anthropology’s reduced prestige is both self-inflicted and commendable; denoting an underlying disciplinary interest in broadening rather than constricting what constitutes art and its agentive capacities.

Context:
This presentation was written for a panel titled "What’s Left? African Art and Anthropology," which will convene at the Arts Council of the African Studies Association's upcoming triennial conference. The panel abstract is as follows:

Anthropology once played a decisive role in African art studies. Not any longer. Challenged by waves of post- and decolonial turns , anthropological interventions in the Africanist art world have become rare. At least, so it seems. But has anthropology really abandoned the field? Recent collaborative projects of anthropologists with artists (De Boeck & Baloji 2016) and curators (Fillitz & Nzewi, 2020) apparently speak to anthropology’s continuous presence in the field. Given this ambivalent finding, the panel aims to evaluate and discuss anthropology’s role and relevance in the field today. What is it, the discipline can (still) bring to the table?

Degenhart Brown is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance, whose research examines the role of sacred arts in medical pluralism across Togo and Benin.

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